The year-end issue of The Economist has three articles of interest regarding religion. One article, “The battle of the books,” describes how Christianity and Islam are competing to distribute their holy books and convert followers, and how their respective demographics have changed dramatically since 1900. In 1900, Islam had about 200 million followers concentrated in the Arab world and southeast Asia, while today it has 1.5 billion followers around the globe. 80% of Christianity’s followers were in Europe and the United States in 1900, while today 60% of the 2 billion Christians are in developing countries and its membership has declined in Europe. It’s a fascinating article, which includes commentary on how Muslims work to memorize the Koran without understanding it, while Christians purchase Bible after Bible but most are almost entirely unfamiliar with its contents (the subject of a previous post on this blog).
The second article, “From polygamy to propriety,” discusses the history of the Mormon religion in the United States and the implications of Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency. The article discusses the origins of the Mormon religion and its current structure, as well as how it has changed in response to past political necessities and how Mormons interact politically with non-Mormons, including in Salt Lake City where Mormons are no longer the majority.
The third article, “Where ‘California’ bubbled up,” is about New Age spirituality in the United States, focusing on the Esalen Institute at Big Sur.
All three articles are well worth your time.